Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia
The Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia was established in Wolfville, NS, in 1972 (after a 1971 summer trial funded through the Opportunities for Youth programme) by Evelyn Garbary, advisor, Tom Miller, artistic director, and Sara Lee Lewis, business manager, to bring live puppet drama to young audiences in rural Nova Scotia. The professional company tours extensively but also performs at home in a renovated, converted cinema, christened the Mermaid Imperial Performing Arts Centre, in downtown Windsor, NS. The complex, which the company purchased in 1987, includes a 400-seat auditorium and a 60-seat intimate "second stage" venue called The Mermaid Loft.
Using large and small rod puppets which appear on stage with masked actors and dancers, the Mermaid has built a solid repertory of plays based on local history (Wee Gillis, 1995); Micmac legends (Medoonak the Storm Maker, 1977); classical children's stories (Kipling's Just So Stories, 1983/1997); world literature (The Navigator, 1979); standard drama (The Merchant of Venice, 1974); and contemporary issues related to young people (Running Red Lights, by Brydon MacDonald, 1981). Other hits include The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), When Dinosaurs Dine by Moonlight (Sheree Fitch), Gulliver's Travels, Peter & the Wolf and Sam Slick.
The company has toured provincially, nationally, and, since 1977, internationally, while steadily broadening its audience to include adults as well as children. Mermaid has performed in countless school auditoriums across the continent and in Japan, Mexico, Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and many other countries, bringing Nova Scotian stories and adaptations as well as legends and tales of First Nations to an international audience.
The Mermaid Theatre established the Nova Scotia Festival of Puppetry in 1974 and was invited to perform The Trickster (1976) at the 1980 World Puppet Festival in Washington, DC. The Mermaid Youtheatre was established in 1990, under associate director Chris Heide, "to provide a forum for Nova Scotia's teenage community; to explore and express their realities through the creation of original performance material; to present theatre which promotes awareness and facilitates positive change." Programs including high school writing competitions, showcase tours, summer theatre camps and local training drama "circles" have earned the Youtheatre respect and awards.
Evelyn Garbary retired in 1981 and Graham Whitehead succeeded Miller as artistic director the following year, continuing the Mermaid's commitment to excellence in puppetry through highly visual productions utilizing vibrant colour, movement and music. Jim Morrow, who studied under the late Jim Henson, became the artistic director in 1992, when the theatre began to tour to Asia and Europe. In 1998, Mermaid Theatre established the Institute of Puppetry Arts with the aim of promoting and enhancing the art of puppetry in Canada through classes, workshops, lectures and demonstrations.
Mermaid has employed hundreds of artists to present its multi-media productions to more than 2.5 million children and their parents on four continents. From its original intention to present the folklore, history and literature of the Atlantic provinces to young people in rural Nova Scotia, Mermaid has grown into the role of the region's cultural ambassador to the world. Likewise, its early efforts to foster an appreciation of the visual arts through unusual and creative masks, puppets and costumes have led to the production of sophisticated, highly theatrical plays suitable for audiences of any age, and have produced a fertile environment for the nurturing of new Canadian plays. A retrospective exhibition of masks, sets and props was installed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia during the summer of 1997.